"Be Careful," Jill Jacobson said.
An odd warning given to a reporter heading to the relatively safe neighborhood of West L.A., to investigate what might be a matter of bad neighbors, or a more noxious case of anti-Semitism. Jacobson's accusations come at a time when anti-Semitism is flaring up around the world, and here at home -- two teenage boys were attacked only last month in Beverlywood.
The trouble for Jacobson began last June, when her husband, Paul Dorman, moved in. Until then, Jacobson, an actress who has appeared regularly in such TV series as "Falcon Crest" and "Star Trek: Deep Space 9," had lived on the quiet cul-de-sac near Pico and Sepulveda boulevards for over seven years, mostly at peace with her neighbors.
Jacobson says she casually mentioned to next-door neighbor Ruben Haro that her new husband was a cantor at Sinai Temple. The harassment reportedly began soon after. Haro forbade the couple from parking their car on the part of the curb that adjoined his property, Jacobson says. Soon after, the taunting, the yelling and the videotaping began, according to the couple.
Across the street, Barbara Robbs lived with her grown children, one of whom had a criminal record and a violent past. Her son, Leonard Robbs, is now in jail for threatening the lives of Jacobson and Dorman. On Robbs' front lawn, a sign reads "God bless my son Leonard aka Juice. He went to jail for the lie to the police of my Jewish neighbor."
Jacobson and Dorman have installed a security system and now keep a video camera by the door, which they take whenever they leave the house. They are afraid of their neighbors, and the tapes they have made show good reason to be.
What they have captured on the tapes reveals clearly that Haro and Robbs have a problem with their Jewish neighbors. Dorman's camera has captured some disturbing incidents and documented the angry signs and pictures that clutter Robbs' front lawn. Haro can be heard taunting Dorman with "Jew boy, Jew boy," followed by an unclear statement that Dorman claims is "Monster with the horns."
Barbara Robbs, standing in the street, complains loudly in a video that, "when I forget my god, dealing with you and your god, I have a problem." From her own front lawn, she appears on the video waving a copy of The Jewish Journal at the camera and yelling, "Satan in your church, in your synagogue."
On Sept. 1, 2001, while arguing about the patch of grass on city property between their homes, Haro sprayed Jacobson in the face with a garden hose. The incident was reported to police and classified as battery.
In January, the couple sought and won a restraining order against Leonard Robbs (who later went to jail in part for violating that order). In March, restraining orders were obtained covering Haro, other members of the Robbs family and a third neighbor.
Tensions continued to build until, in March, police returned to the cul-de-sac when a friend of Barbara Robbs reportedly swung a tire iron at the couple as they walked their dogs past Robbs' home. The incident allegedly took place prior to the latest restraining orders.
Police have been called to the cul-de-sac many times, when Jacobson or Dorman feared their neighbors' harassment would escalate to violence. Jacobson and Dorman themselves have also had a complaint filed against them. The same day as the reported tire iron incident, the Department of Animal Regulation served a notice to Jacobson and Dorman for their two dogs' excessive barking. Barbara Robbs would later be cited by police for violating her restraining order by barking at Jacobson.
Though Jacobson and Dorman believe the harassment stems from anti-Semitism, it is not clear, either from the tapes or the police reports, that anti-Semitism is a motivating factor in the harassment, as much as a tool of harassment.
Police reports refer to "an ongoing neighbor dispute over property." Neither Haro nor the Robbs were available for comment.
After the reported incident with the tire iron, Jacobson and Dorman could no longer wait for the police to enforce the restraining orders. They called the FBI, and agents spent five hours at their home reviewing Dorman's tapes and police reports.
"The FBI is making a determination" about a hate crimes prosecution, Dorman says. "[The neighbors] are clearly anti-Semitic and clearly harassing, but it's a chicken or the egg question."
With the restraining orders reportedly not stopping the harassment, and fearing that the ambiguity of this neighborhood dispute as a hate crime will keep the police from effectively protecting them, Dorman and Jacobson are trying another tactic: They have filed a civil suit against their neighbors.
Their lawyer, Robert Canny, is seeking approximately $4.5 million in damages for emotional distress and punitive claims.
Though Dorman and Jacobson "just want this to go away," says Canny, they will stop the harassment through any channels they can.
"[The neighbors] own their houses. We want a levy on the houses," Canny says. "We're gonna take their houses away if that's what it takes."
After nearly a year feeling trapped in her home due to anti-Semitic taunting and threats, Jacobson still has trouble believing this is happening.
"You think it can never happen to you," she says, "then you find out it's just sitting under the surface. Next door."
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